TAMPA — Joe Girardi took a seat in the visitor’s dugout at George M. Steinbrenner Field on Wednesday night and smiled.
“I know my way around,’’ Girardi said.
He sure does. Girardi is now manager of the Phillies, but in so many ways his heart always will be with the Yankees.
Fences have been mended with GM Brian Cashman. This past winter Aaron Boone let him know he was appreciative of the job Girardi did as manager to set the stage for Boone.
When asked if this place still feels like home Girardi said, “Yeah, obviously it’s really familiar for me. I’m trying to think how many years I’ve been part of the organization — four as a player, 10 as a manager, a couple years as a broadcaster, a bench coach. It’s been a big part of my life. It has been a big part of my kids’ life.
“Obviously I’m really excited about my next chapter. Love every bit of being in Philadelphia. It’s a passionate town about sports and their baseball, and it has been great.’’
The Phillies are lucky to have Girardi. He brings a baseball soul to the team and he showed that soul Wednesday night.
“He’s a great manager, was a great Yankee, and we were lucky to have him for as long as we did,’’ Cashman said of Girardi.
Added Boone, “I think Joe is a great manager. Even in some games I would announce there were some years where there was some transitional years, and he was able to get the most out of his clubs. He is someone I have a healthy respect for. He is really one of the good ones.’’
Girardi was appreciative Boone called him, saying of that call, “He was thankful for the job that the coaches did and I was a part of. He’s really happy with his team and we helped raise some of those kids. I thought it was really big of him to make that call. I was not expecting it.’’
The fans even gave Girardi a standing ovation Wednesday night.
Girardi won three world championships as a Yankees catcher and one as manager in 2009. His final year was the Year of the Cheat, 2017, when the Astros beat the Yankees in seven games in the ALCS.
That was the end of the line. The Yankees did not ask him back. The hurt was deep.
Cashman and Girardi met after the 2018 season at Girardi’s home.
“We had a nice talk,’’ Girardi said, noting it was a clear-the-air meeting. “It was really good.’’
Here is a side of Girardi you rarely saw. He admitted it took a long time to get over not being the Yankees manager anymore.
“It was hard for me,’’ Girardi said. “It was an emotional time for me. There’s a lot of things that you think about. You’ve been there for so many years.
“I had given a lot to the Yankees in the 10 years that I was there,’’ Girardi said. “I put my heart and soul in it and I thought I was going to be back and I was looking forward to it. We went through some years that were kind of lean and we went through a transition with some older players and it was finally like the young guys had arrived and you knew they had a run for a long time, so I was looking forward to that.’’
And winning that World Series in 2009 remains so special.
“Presenting Mr. Steinbrenner with the ring is one of my favorite moments in my baseball career,’’ Girardi said. “Because I was able to thank him for him trusting in me as a manager, as a coach, as a player all those years.’’
As for the cheatin’ Astros beating the Yankees, Girardi said, “That is something I never really put a lot of thought in. I really didn’t. I moved on after that as soon as the World Series was over. I know there has been a lot brought to light but we did everything we could to combat that back then. I never thought of what if. It doesn’t really do you any good.
“You look for that opportunity to win a World Series, they don’t come around a lot,’’ Girardi said of the loss. “It’s hard. I look at it the other way, it’s our job to protect our stuff.’’
No doubt the Phillies have a winner in Joe Girardi.